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To La.’s Accountability Commission, As They ReVAMp Teacher Evals

September 25, 2014

In 2010, Louisiana Representative Frank Hoffman authored the bill to include student test scores as part of teacher evaluations.

Hoffman said that he “would never do anything that would hurt good teachers”– an irony, since via his bill, Hoffman had decided that the definition of a “good teacher” is one whose value can be assessed via value-added modeling (VAM), a procedure with results shown to be highly erratic in piloting done after the bill was signed into law in May 2010.

Hoffman’s words in May 2010, as recorded in the Times-Picayune:

Hoffman replied that if the plan doesn’t work after two years, “I’ll be the first and the loudest arguing to do away with it.”

Well. It’s 2014; the pilot test results have been largely ignored, VAM was shelved in 2013-14 because (lo and behold), it did not magically and surgically separate the “bad” teachers from the “good,” and on September 25, 2014, Hoffman is quoted in the Baton Rouge Advocate as follows:

State Rep. Frank Hoffmann, a West Monroe Republican and sponsor of the 2010 law that overhauled the annual reviews, noted that he vowed four years ago to try to change the process again if problems surfaced.

“I’m not wanting to do away with it,” Hoffmann said. “I want to get it right.”

Uh huh.

The truth is that trying to tie any student test scores to teacher performance– whether via VAM or “student learning targets”– amounts to nothing more than a crap shoot.

Roll the dice, teachers. Your career is on the line, and all that you *control* is the toss of the dice. The outcome– how the dice *should* land– is set by those who haven’t a clue what they are doing.

Teachers cannot directly control student test scores except via unethical and dehumanizing tactics, yet we are being told that we must control the scores or be declared *ineffective.*

The September 25, 2014, Advocate article focuses on “the Accountability Commission, an influential, 17-member panel that includes teacher and other educators, school group leaders and parents.”

So, if we get a group of professionals together, we will (a John White favorite word) *tweak* this teacher-performance-as-gauged-by-student-test-scores issue in order to clearly separate the *ineffective* teachers from all who are *effective*; purge them from the classroom, and keep only the *effective* teachers, who will know they are valued and not flee the profession.

It cannot work.

Any incorporation of student test scores into teacher evaluations only introduces imprecision into the evaluation process. A (dare I write) *close reading* of the VAM study presented to legislators in February 2011 is evidence enough of the folly that this committee continues to pursue in the name of *effective* teaching if it insists upon including student test scores to gauge teacher value.

Test-driven “reform” likes to state that it is also “data driven” in its decisions.

I say to this committee: prove it.

Operationalize your definitions of “teacher effectiveness”– which, by the way, must be done by human beings using their human judgment– and then pilot test over time (I’m talking years) and varied teaching situations any and all proposed evaluation measure(s) against the established definitions to assess the degree to which those teachers determined by human beings to be “”effective” and “ineffective” are actually found to be so via the measure(s) in question.

A solid measure is one that classifies and reclassifies “effective” as “effective” regardless of changes in student population or district.

If the students are bright and motivated, “effective” teacher is found “effective.”

If the students are intellectually and motivationally challenged, “effective” teacher is found “effective.”

If the district is wealthy and support staff abound, “effective” teacher is found “effective.”

If the district is financially strapped and the teacher must regularly supply materials for his/her students, “effective” teacher is found “effective.”

If parents are highly involved in the life of the child, “effective” teacher is found “effective.”

If the parents are missing in action, “effective” teacher is found “effective.”

If the results are erratic and mixed– which they are likely to be given the complex nature of teaching, learning, and (yes) child rearing– then, Committee, you must openly admit as much and not use the proposed evaluations.

But if you focus on only trying to rubric me, you widely and sadly miss the mark.

The best way to go about your charge is to step back and consider the punitive nature of trying to “weed out” the “bad” teachers. No matter the evaluation method you settle upon, if you continue in this accusatory vein, then you will not stop the “effective” teachers from fleeing the profession.

It’s that simple.

And there is no getting around the fact that the best way to assess teachers is for the school administration to do so. Those administrators whose careers began in the classroom are familiar with the classroom from a teacher’s perspective, and they have a vested interest in their schools.

I am not referring to positioned, empty-souled educationists like John White.

I mean real administrators who feel pride in their profession.

Value them, and encourage them to value their teachers. Train them and encourage them to face their responsibility for confronting “ineffective” teachers– but don’t drive them into a corner of levying judgments of “ineffective” by imposing artificial, student test score outcomes as criteria to “purge” their schools.

Student test scores are designed to gauge student achievement. That is not the same as gauging teacher performance.

I am asking you, Committee, to admit this to yourselves. Read the VAM pilot results and just admit it.

I am so much more than my students’ test scores.

This week, I had to “set” my “student learning targets.” I had to determine how many students had achieved the “benchmark” score on their latest standardized tests and “promise” to “raise” a set percentage of those scores in order to be declared “effective.”

I do not directly control test score movement. I find out where my students are in their learning (and their maturity as multifaceted human beings), and I endeavor to move them forward so that they might lead fulfilling, productive lives.

It’s all I’ve ever done, really, as a teacher.

It’s what I plan to keep doing, period.


Like my writing? Read my ed “reform” whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education


  1. Glad you are “grounded”. Important points made. Remembering our purpose. If accolades come, great. If they don’t, great. The most important ones are the “lit” eyes of our students when they “get” something because we taught them.

  2. Christine Lyles permalink

    Throughout 20+ years of teaching, I have developed many unique projects and activities to teach my students. I am now told that I cannot use these — I am tied to Eureka Math and must follow it to the letter. In addition, we are tied to “data” testing 4 times each year. In addition, I am told that I must give a weekly test that is tied to Eureka Math. I spend more time testing that teaching! I have received Teacher of the Year awards several times throughout my career, but you (school board and state) do not trust me to do what is best for my students. Instead you dictate ! This too shall pass!

    • NOLA Charter Pawn permalink

      C L
      I fee your pain with Eureka mYth. As math teachers, we face the challenge of a forced curriculum and the uncertainty of the high stakes exam that our learners must pass. My district also requires the mYth of Eureka and A-Net testing every quarter. I am constantly searching for lessons to fill the huge holes in the Eureka.
      I have parents requesting that their children be allowed to take the “textbook” home. What textbooks? Eureka workbooks must stay at school because “We do not provide replacements for lost workbooks.”
      Eureka/Engage was so successful in New York …….

  3. john a permalink

    Isn’t the use of invalid evaluation tool a denial of teachers – at least tenured teachers due process rights: the measurement tool does not do what it was supposed to do: separate god teachers from bad teachers. If tenured teachers lose their job, they have been severely harmed by an arbitrary and capricious process. Would terminated tenured teachers have a colorable claim to a violation of their due process tights. If there is a disparate racial impact on tenured teachers , then the claim is even stronger. Any comments Mercedes? These teachers need ‘big time’ assistance.

    • John, privatizing reform has as its tactic, “Who cares about the law? Make ’em sue.” And so, LAE has told me it is prepared to pursue individual cases.

      • john a permalink

        This may be useless, but maybe ‘you’, or some one who is being harmed by all LAE scheisse (look it up) has to take them up on their dare and sue them. If there is no ‘dare’, then there is no opportunity to win, and kids keep getting harmed. There MUST be a public interest lawyer or law firm, who ‘you’ could at lest talk to. I should not assume that you have not already mad inquiry. Parent must have a vehicle to push back; victimization is not acceptable; this you know. There must be a way to at least jab, jab, jab. To paraphrase Albert Camus: you must side with the victims,not the executioners. If you think this dramatic, then just look around you.

  4. Sunshine permalink

    SLO’s, SLGG’s whatever, they are the new stupidity. During a rushed goal writing inservice last week, my district gave us the actual tiers (cut lines) and told us how to place all elementary children according to their Fall CBM scores. The amount of movement required for the teacher to be determined “effective” was also predetermined.

    “Rolling the dice” and expecting everyone to get the same results seems to fly in the face of probability. When I asked how they knew this was going to work there was just a long, uncomfortable silence.

    Meanwhile, one person at the DO tells us that we are a 1-4 “proficiency” district. (We are re-writing our report cards to align with the CCSS and this new “proficiency model” now required because of the NCLB waiver.) Later, in the SLGG training we are told we are a 1-5 “mastery” district. What a mess.

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